T.B. touched on this the day it came out, but after K-State's loss to Baylor two weeks ago in the Big 12 tourney the KC Star's Sam Mellinger wrote a column that brought me first a lot of confusion, then eventually anger. Essentially, he argued that Frank's teams are incapable of surpassing the level they're at right now and will never return to the glory days of the 2010 Elite 8 team. Or in his own, almost nonsensical words:
Martin's program is now a little bit like an ambitious college grad who turns into a 38-year-old with a mortgage and a job he doesn't like. There's nothing wrong with that life; it's just not what was once imagined.
So if this is K-State's place in the college basketball world - comfortably solid, but with little growth potential - is that enough?
It's really too easy to debunk the premise itself, so let's take a look at some of Mellinger's "evidence," since it does include some things that have caused some consternation among K-Staters, even here in discussions at BOTC. Then at the end, I'll even pretend for a moment that the premise isn't absurd and try to answer his question.
The first part of the argument goes that the best players don't want to play Frank's style of
basketball coaching, which includes more yelling than average and is most accurately and succinctly described as "work hard or don't play." That might be true for some, but I find it hard to believe that every top high school senior is afraid of putting in some effort that will likely make them an even better basketball player.
It's impossible to imagine that many parents and recruits aren't impressed by the way that Frank always has the back of his players, as evidenced yet again by this whole Jamar Samuels debacle. If he alienates some, that's fine, but quite honestly coaching is probably a profession where if everyone likes you, you're not doing your job.
This isn't a Mike Anderson team, where even as a top player you're still going to get 30 minutes a game, at most. Jacob Pullen, Denis Clemente and Rodney McGruder have proven that significant growth is possible under Martin and you start to get a little leeway once you reach that top level.
Oh, and lest we forgot, Michael Beasley proved that if you're good enough, Frank's willing to make some exceptions to the rules. He averaged 31.5 minutes a game as a big man, and went 35+ in about half of his Big 12 games, even though he's always played defense-optional basketball.
It's incredibly foolish for Mellinger to use the fact that Robert Upshaw is K-State's only top 100 recruit in the last three years as an indictment of Frank's recruiting. That's a far-too-small sample size, and we all know that top recruits don't always pan out.
Only a very small circle of programs (Kentucky, UNC, Duke, kU, etc.) should honestly expect to bring in blue chip players year after year, and to expect any coach to do that in Manhattan, Kan. would be like expecting Qatar to earn the right to host the World Cup without paying off FIFA. Kansas State is a place where you have to develop players if you're going to survive and compete at the highest levels, and I think the fans and coach accept that.
That brings me to my last point, which is something that Mellinger just ignores entirely. The implied notion in his column is that Frank will always be the same, but the fact is he's still a relatively young and inexperienced coach, and I think he'd be one of the first to say that he's still got a lot of growing and developing himself.
Already, in fact, we're seeing him mellow out a bit on the sidelines, even it's because of messages from his bosses. I'd like to think he's getting a better feel for when to banish players to the bench and when to let them play through mistakes, but I'm confident that's something that will come with time.
It wouldn't shock me at all to see a Frank team get back to the Elite 8 or even further, but it would also be foolish to predict that it will happen, because it requires not just a lot of talent, but some luck as well.
And what if Mellinger happens to be right, and K-State is never going to be able to get back to even the Sweet 16? I can't say I'll be satisfied, but as someone whose first vivid K-State basketball memories come from the late Altman years and into the Asbury era, it will certainly be difficult to complain.